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Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford to oversee new women’s hockey union

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The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association has selected Hockey Hall of Fame player Jayna Hefford to oversee its daily operations in a leadership shuffle three months after the union was founded.

Hefford becomes the operations consultant and succeeds Bryan Hicks, who was hired on July 1. Her duties will include generating revenue and attracting sponsors. The PWHPA didn’t provide details on why the change was made in its news release Wednesday.

Hefford was the interim commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it ceased operations this spring. Hefford is among just three female players to win four Olympic gold medals during her 17 years with Canada’s national team.

The union was formed in May in the wake of the CWHL folding, followed by more than 200 players pledging to sit out the upcoming season in North America in a bid to establish a single, economically viable professional league.

The CWHL’s demise left the U.S.-based, five-team National Women’s Hockey League as North America’s only pro league.

Bettman: NHL will discuss video review; no China preseason games in 2019

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BOSTON — There will plenty for the NHL’s Competition Committee and the League’s 31 general managers to discuss when both groups meet on separate dates next month, but the leading topic of discussion will be what to do with video review.

As we know, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have featured plenty of officiating controversies, highlighted by the missed hand pass by San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final that immediately lead to Erik Karlsson’s overtime winner against the St. Louis Blues. No one, outside of the Sharks and their fans, was happy with the missed called and the officials’ inability to review the play.

Meeting with the media ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that feedback will be solicited from the appropriate parties and then discussions will begins to either tweak the video review process or leave it unchanged.

“Consistency is going to be as important as anything else,” said Bettman, who also noted the League is concerned with slowing the game down. “We understand from the track record what the issue are and where the problems can be in implementation.”

What won’t happen is a reduction in what plays can be reviewed. “I don’t think you can go backwards anymore. That ship has sailed,” Bettman said.

NO CHINA GAMES IN 2019-20

China is set to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding in the fall, which put a wrinkle in the NHL trying to finalize arrangements to hold preseason games in the country again next season. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames played two games in September as part of the League’s strategy to grow the game over there.

But the NHL is still attempting to have a presence in China in 2019.

“We’re going to double down on our efforts in China. We’re going to really ramp up our presence there,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Hopefully including over this summer with player visits and league visits, Players’ Association visits and the like. We’re going to continue to invest in grassroots and school programs and continue to fuel growth of youth hockey in China.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Bettman also responded to IIHF president Rene Fasel’s quote over the weekend at the World Championship that said he’d like to set a September 2020 deadline for the league to make a commitment to the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. Bettman said nothing has been communicated to the league regarding that yet.

CBA DISCUSSIONS CONTINUE

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have continued having dialogue in hopes of avoiding another work stoppage at the end of the 2021-22 season. In September, both sides have the option to end the agreement one year early — after the 2020-21 season — but there’s still a long way to go before any final decisions are made.

“We both recognize what’s at stake come September in terms of each of us having unilateral right to shorten the agreement and have it expire in 2020, as opposed to 2022,” said Daly.

“When you think about where the game is and the state of the business of the game and how it’s grown, there’s a lot to be said for labor peace, and that’s something we’re very focused on,” Bettman said. “If you asked the Players’ Association, [Don Fehr] could list 10 or 15 things he’d like to change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We could probably do the same thing but ultimately this is going to come down to what’s most important.”

Talks between the sides will continue this summer.

“Everybody has their own thoughts It depends on what happens,” said Fehr. “We’ve got a board meeting in a couple of weeks. Then we’ll have player meetings all summer long. If we need another board meeting the end of August, first month of September, we will.”

NHL AND WOMEN’S HOCKEY

The NHL will continue watching as the “dust settles” in women’s hockey now that the CWHL has folded and 200 professional players have declared they will sit out the 2019-20 season in hopes of a long-term, economically viable solution Is found in North America.

“Whether or not it’s appropriate for us to get involved with a league, at least starting our own league, is something that not everybody agrees on from afar and it’s not anything we’ve focused on yet,” said Bettman.

The NHL was involved in set up the U.S.-Canada Rivalry Series in February and included Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Rebecca Johnston and Renata Fast in NHL All-Star Weekend in January. Bettman said in the meantime they will continue to be involved in one-off ideas.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pro women hockey players form union in step toward league

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More than 200 of the world’s top women’s hockey players have formed a union, saying they must ”stand together” if there is to be a sustainable professional league.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) said Monday the paperwork was filed Friday to help push for the creation of a ”single, viable women’s professional league in North America.”

The women had announced earlier this month their pledge to sit out the upcoming season in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League abruptly shut down this year. That leaves only the National Women’s Hockey League, which took back control of the Buffalo Beauts on May 8.

The PWHPA said in a statement the association also will help players coordinate training needs and opportunities and develop sponsor support.

”We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” Kendall Coyne Schofield said in a statement. ”It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

Coyne Schofield won Olympic gold with the U.S. in 2018 and was an NWHL All-Star with the Minnesota Whitecaps this past season.

The new union’s members include players from Europe along with the U.S. and Canada.

”We might play for different teams, and come from different countries, but we’re united in our goals,” said goaltender Noora Raty, who has won two Olympic bronze medals with Finland. ”This is about protecting ourselves, protecting our future, and making hockey a better place for women and girls.”

The PWHPA made it clear the union wants a league that provides health insurance, money and infrastructure along with support for training programs.

”We are prepared to stop playing for a year, which is crushing to even think about, because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados said. ”We know we can make this work, and we want the chance to try.”

Liz Knox, former co-chair of the CWHL Players Association, said the players are uncertain about what happens next.

”But we move forward united, dedicated, and hopeful for our future and the future of this game we love so much,” Knox said.

The NWHL stresses that not everyone is boycotting the lone remaining women’s professional league.

The league announced a couple of player deals, notably one featuring Madison Packer. Packer, who is tied for most goals in NWHL history, signed for $12,000 to play the upcoming season with the Metropolitan Riveters. The NWHL previously announced players also will receive a 50 percent cut of revenue and 15 percent apparel sales with their names this upcoming season.

”I’m coming back for a fifth season because I am passionate about continuing my playing career and to advance the game and our league,” Packer said.

”I’m confident in the direction our sport is headed, and in the plan the NWHL has laid out for a strong season and positive experience for players and fans. It’s important to build off the momentum created by the league’s success last season, and my body feels good enough to continue playing.”

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Women pushing for new hockey league staring at open calendar

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For Kimberly Sass, the decision to risk missing a season of hockey in a bid for a better professional women’s league came down to simple choice.

Dollars and cents matter more than ice time and stopping pucks.

”In April, I came to realize that after tax write-offs, including equipment, travel and taxes I paid more to play professional ice hockey in 2018 than I made,” the Metropolitan Riveters goaltender said. ”It is the financially responsible decision to not play professional women’s ice hockey next season.”

Sass , who is also an architect in New York City, is among the more than 200 of the world’s top female players who announced they will not play professional hockey in North America next season in a bold attempt to establish a single, economically viable league. While members of national teams get stipend money from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada and some sponsorships, some have been paid as little as $2,000 a year to play.

The decision to sit out was not easy, nor was it fully unified despite the large number. Time waits for no one in sports, and not practicing with teammates or playing games is a heavy blow. Staying in ”hockey shape” is a concern.

Women on national teams will have practices and tournaments like the Four Nations Cup in November and the 2020 world championships. Liz Knox, goalie and co-chair of the players’ union for the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, said she expects to see more support from Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to keep those players fit.

Still, many players are just trying to figure out what’s next, and those conversations haven’t been held yet in the wake of organizing this push for a sustainable league. Knox said the challenge is balancing resources. Simply playing in a beer league wouldn’t be fair to players already in those leagues.

”So where do we fit in here?” Knox said. ”I don’t know. That’s something that we’re still trying to navigate.”

The clock is ticking for older players, including several of the stars who ended the United States’ Olympic gold medal drought in 2018. Meghan Duggan, captain of that U.S. team, will be 32 in September and has played in both the CWHL and NWHL. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who helped clinch Olympic gold for the United States in 2018 with her shootout goal, and sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando turn 30 in July.

Both sisters took off the past year to start families with each having sons last winter, and now they face a second season without hockey. Lamoureux-Davidson says the twins are trained by her sister’s husband and also skate at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The next step will be trying to figure out how everyone can train and stay sharp on the ice.

”And hopefully there’s support from other organizations, and I think there’s conversations about that,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. ”But yeah, definitely that’s where the concern comes in for a lot of players as well is, ‘What am I going to do to be where I need to be when there’s a place to play?”’

Sass already knows the challenge of taking a break from hockey, having thought she retired not once but twice. The first came right after graduating from Colgate and choosing graduate school over the CWHL or playing in Europe. Following the National Women’s Hockey League’s first season with Buffalo, she thought her career over again when she couldn’t find a position on another team. She didn’t work out or train with a goalie coach, making it tougher when she got a call just before the 2017-18 season.

Like many players, Sass juggles a traditional job with hockey. She has had colleagues ask why she works as an architect if she’s a professional hockey player, and she missed the Riveters’ last playoff game in March not wanting to take off an extra half day from her new job because travel to Minnesota was routed round-trip through North Carolina.

Sass said she knows at age 28 she might not play in the new league the women want.

”It’s really a personal decision for players to decide to continue training to keep doors open or to help the game in other ways,” Sass said.

Every woman who decided not to play in North America this next season understands that some may never benefit, and Lamoureux-Davidson said that is part of the push to create something that can last.

”I think everyone understands that it’s much bigger than any one individual’s career, and we’re all proud to stand together and hopefully make a big difference for the next generation,” she said.

Anything should be better than a typical Thursday for Knox while she was playing for the CWHL’s Markham Thunder. She worked her day job as a contractor from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., grabbed dinner, went to class training for a career as a firefighter between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. before driving to practice. Knox said she could not remember the last time she got a full eight hours’ sleep balancing professional hockey and work.

”You’re looking at 6 a.m. to an 11 p.m. day, and we shouldn’t have to do that,” Knox said.

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno contributed.

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Women’s players hope NHL steps in to create new league

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Meghan Duggan need only look around sports to get excited about what an NHL-run women’s hockey league might look like.

The NBA did it with the WNBA. Soccer leagues in Europe and the U.S. have done it. And that was enough for the 2018 U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning captain and more than 200 fellow players to take a leap of faith by pledging not to play in North America this year to try to get to the point where there is a single, economically viable professional league.

”History has told all of us that startup women’s professional leagues thrive and are very successful when working with an existing professional league,” Duggan said. ”That’s definitely something I think that we would be excited about. But this is just the first step in getting there.”

The effective boycott of North America’s only remaining women’s hockey league, the National Women’s Hockey League, sent shockwaves through the sport.

Now comes the big question: Will it work?

”I think they have a better chance of succeeding than some of the men’s unions have,” said Matt DelDuca, a labor and employment attorney with Pepper Hamilton. ”Strikes have not been very effective in professional sports for players because it’s hard to maintain them long term. Women’s professional sports are a little different because of the economics. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for them.”

It’s an opportunity equipment giant Bauer Hockey wants to be a part of. Vice president of marketing Mary-Kay Messier said the National Hockey League ”must be in an ownership position” for any women’s league.

”I really do believe and we at Bauer believe that that is the only sustainable, viable option for ownership,” Messier said.

The NHL has given $50,000 annually each to the NWHL and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League that recently shut down . It has invited a handful of top players to participate in its All-Star skills competition and invited stakeholders to various meetings.

University at Buffalo sports law professor Nellie Drew wondered what happens next.

”The question is going to be whether the economic demand will be there to drive this,” Drew said. ”Right now in 2019, do the women’s hockey players have the economic leverage to make an effective stand on this position? Maybe not. But do they have the capacity to drive public sentiment strongly enough that it will make the (NHL) consider it? Yeah, I think they do.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league backs ”the concept of professional women’s hockey and elite women’s hockey players having the ability to play the game at a professional level,” but it is too early to commit to a bigger role.

”What is going on now with the kind of shut down of the CWHL and now the this boycott of the NWHL it’s not ideal for anybody,” he said. ”We’ll see how it all plays out. We certainly want to preserve the ability of women players to play at the highest level. So it’s really too early to say how that is going to play out and how the NHL’s role will or won’t be going forward. We’re going to have to be observers.”

The U.S. women’s national team in 2017 threatened to skip the world championships in Michigan and wound up getting an improved benefits package from USA Hockey. Those players will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn about $71,000 annually. They can make up to $129,000 in Olympic years with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee. It was a big boost for a group of women who were getting $1,000 a month for six months around the Olympics.

That situation is much different from trying to establish a league from scratch, with questions ranging from the business model to potential locations, sponsors and investors, player benefits and more. The NWHL said it was going ahead with next season and was offering improved salaries and a revenue-sharing deal with players, who nonetheless made their decision to sit out.

Skipping a season is a question female soccer players have faced many times as a labor tactic, said Megan Rapinoe, named to her third U.S. roster for the upcoming Women’s World Cup. The captain of Reign FC in the NWSL expressed support for her fellow female athletes.

”It’s sort of a last-resort tactic that is just the labor side of things (athletes are) sometimes forced to take,” Rapinoe said Friday. ”And I think you never want to, but I think you always have to be willing to if it gets to that point.”

Players have urged USA Hockey and Hockey Canada to become involved in helping set up the framework for a professional league. Critics have questioned why USA Hockey hasn’t done more on the women’s side, particularly when it provides support to the USHL, America’s top junior hockey league for males 20 and younger.

”While we’re certainly an interested party in the happenings on the professional side of the game, our priority is on continuing to grow the game at the grassroots level and enhancing and supporting our national team program,” USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said in a prepared statement.

As for backing the USHL, USA Hockey has made the distinction the junior league is for amateur athletes, and not professionals.

Hockey Canada drew criticism for failing to respond to the CWHL’s last-minute plea for assistance just before the league announced in March it would shut down. The organization has not responded to a request for comment this week.

No one believes a long-term league will materialize overnight, but U.S. Olympian Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said she was optimistic based on the NHL’s position and the power of so many players.

”We feel confident that we potentially have a gap year now and players are prepared to sit out an entire season of professional hockey, which isn’t good for any one individual player,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. ”But hopefully that will be the maximum that anyone would have to sit out.”

As word of the women’s decision spread, NHL players said they were excited even if they’re not sure how a league run by the NHL might work.

”They’re the best in the world at what they do. They should be compensated accordingly,” Colorado defenseman Ian Cole said. ”I’m not sure how that would be structured. I’m not the chief financial officer of the NHL. I don’t know what the figures would look like. I don’t know if it’s economically feasible. I’m not sure how they would do it. Would we like to see that? Yeah, absolutely.”

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker, Pat Graham and Tim Booth contributed.

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